The essentials, part one

I never really cheated in school, I think.

There was this one time when I almost did, though. I think I was in fourth grade. The fact that I'm not sure about that belies the fact that I remember a few random details about that day. It was Filipino class. It was the 1:10 class. It was a quiz done on one of those one-fourth sheets of paper.

I'm sure I was in fourth grade then because I was still classmates with Anna, perhaps my fiercest academic rival during my elementary years - and because we were in this classroom that was wide but felt musty. (I was in a different classroom during the fifth grade.) It was Anna who I tried to copy from. I was having a severe case of mental block and, in hindsight, I was not at all willing to be upstaged by this big-eyed, thin-as-sticks lady who just popped up from out of nowhere.

What happened instead was the two of us sort of playing a bit of a pas de deux: I was trying to get her answers, and she was teasing me with it. The bit I remember the most was her showing me just the first three letters of every answer, an easy trick considering she only had to cover three-quarters of the test paper. It did not help at all. We were doing this quiz on verbs, I think  - remember, "pandiwa", remember - and all of the answers started with "mag-". Or was it "ma-"? Whatever. All the answers started with the same syllable. All fifteen answers.

I don't remember how I did in that quiz. To be fair, it was back in elementary, and even if we fought our hardest to get good grades - some more so than others, which explained the rivalry, a rivalry she clearly won considering she's a lawyer in California and I just write shit - we never really put markers where particularly good grades should be. Ask me about elementary school, and it's likely my most vivid memories are of those newspapers I did from folded pieces of bond paper, or of me trying to follow Carmel into the girls' toilets, almost, or of me throwing a tantrum when I refused to get a flu shot because I saw how long the needles were.

I remember this more because I finally gave in - I think I was the last to get the shot - and I returned to the classroom to some sort of triumphant applause. That classroom was the very same classroom where I tried, and failed, to cheat at a quiz.

All that aside, I never tried to cheat on anything school-related since. Never in high school, never in college. It didn't feel like I was making a principled stand against the miscreants of the academic system. But then, it seemed like such an essential part of the student experience that, looking back, it feels weird that I can't relate to stories about how one crammed his homework and had to copy from an agreeable friend before the first bell rang. It just never occurred to me.

"You'll come to regret not doing those things," Katia once told me. This wasn't about copying homework, no; it's about not attending university nights because I lived far away and knew I'd have a hard time commuting. That echoes in my head, occasionally, but I find I never really regret anything, or at least not as much as it seemed at the time.

That said, what I do have are stories about laughing at a teacher when a white board fell on his back, and him getting angry at the entire class for doing so. I do have stories about managing to eke out, due to some unnecessarily thorough sleuthing, that a crush of mine was with child - and then seeing her in the corridors years later very sure she had an abortion. I do have stories that, well, I cringe about, considering what I know is wrong now, even if I have always meant good. So, yes, some of those things, I regret. I take that last paragraph back.

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